Desert plants tend to look very different from plants native to other regions. They are often swollen, spiny, and have tiny leaves that are rarely bright green. A desert always has a limitation of water but the temperature may be hot or cold, high altitude and cloudy like parts of Costa Rica or low altitude and windy like the Cape Preserve in South Africa. The strange appearance of these plants is a result of their remarkable adaptations to the challenges of the desert climate. Desert plants have developed three main adaptive strategies with diverse implementations often in different species with convergent evolution to the same form: succulence, drought tolerance and drought avoidance in annual plants. Each of these is a different but effective suite of adaptations for prospering under conditions that would kill plants from other regions. These differences often extend to the cellular level with the development of special structures to store water in leaves and stems, the periodic shedding of leaves, and special adaptations to even the basic photosynthesis process. Chlorophyll (the green pigment in plants) is the only known substance in the universe that can capture volatile light energy and convert it into a stable form usable for biological processes (chemical energy) through the Calvin Cycle and the enzyme RuBisCO. Green plants use blue and red light energy to combine low-energy molecules (carbon dioxide and water) into high-energy molecules (carbohydrates or starch), which they accumulate and store as energy reserves. There are at least three variations of photosynthesis, all of which use the same basic mechanism, C3 carbon fixation used by most plants, C4 carbon fixation used in about 3% of plants and the CAM (crassulacean acid metabolism) carbon fixation pathway that evolved in plants like cactus as an adaptation to arid conditions.
Sometimes, looking for plants and flowers in winter can be interesting, particularly near a source of fresh water in the desert. In November, I visited Rogers and Blue Point Springs on the north shore of Lake Mead in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Rogers Spring and other springs in the “North Shore Complex” comprise one of the terminal discharge areas for the regional carbonate-rock aquifer system of eastern Nevada and western Utah. The source of the water to this spring and other regional carbonate-rock aquifer springs is uncertain. The prevailing theory suggests that much of the recharge water that enters the carbonate-rock aquifer occurs in the high mountain ranges around Ely, Nevada, located 250 miles north of Lake Mead. As this ground water flows south through the carbonate rocks, it encounters several faults along the way, including the Rogers Spring Fault, which has caused the older carbonate rocks (primarily limestone and dolomite) to be displaced against younger evaporite deposits of the Muddy Creek and Horse Spring formations. Here, the lower permeability of these evaporite deposits, along with high subsurface water pressure, forces the ground water in the carbonate rocks to flow upward along the fault and emerge at the surface as Rogers Spring.
This past spring I visited Arcata California for a little bird photography. Whenever I am out photographing birds, I always take a second camera with a macro lens attached for photographing wildflowers and plants. Some days I get more pictures of birds while other days are predominantly flowers. Because of the cloudy Pacific Northwest climate, there are many interesting plants and beautiful flowers to be seen in the area. Also because of the climate there are many fewer people that both live here and visit, compared to the areas south, making it a good place to see wildflowers and birds. Again because of the climate, there are a fair number of unusual local plants and wildflowers that can be seen nowhere else. There are also a large number of non-native plants that while beautiful, affect the delicate balance of nature in this area. These “immigrant plants” should be a reminder that introducing non-native elements into an ecosystem can have unintended consequences. In any case, I came away with some photos of beautiful blossoms which I thought I would share.
Even though it is summer for most of the nation, high in the Sierra Nevada mountains it is still cool and for all intents and purposes late spring, with temperatures in the 70s. Wildflowers are abundant and small streams and waterfalls are everywhere as runoff from the snowpack continues. Depending on the elevation, spring in Sequoia National Park generally lasts from April to mid-June. Early spring begins to bring warmer temperatures, but the sequoia groves are often still filled with snow. Fortunately, when we visited in June, the snow was gone and the wildflowers were in bloom with no snow.
Since this was a wet spring in California, we decided to visit the poppy reserve in Antelope Valley. The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve is a state-protected reserve of California, USA, harboring the most consistent blooms of California poppies, the state flower. The reserve is located in the rural westside of Antelope Valley in northern Los Angeles County, 15 miles (24 km) west of Lancaster and about 35 miles from Santa Clarita. The reserve is at an elevation ranging from 2,600 to 3,000 feet (790 to 910 m) above sea level in the Mojave Desert climate zone. The intense blooming season for the California poppy falls usually within late winter to early spring, during the months of mid-February through mid-May. Blooming seasons are dependent on the amount of rainfall during the winter to early spring seasons. Within the reserve, there are 7 miles (11 km) of trails, including a paved section for wheelchair access, which traverse through the poppy fields.
Since we were in Santa Clarita for the past two weeks, caring for our grandson, we decided to visit the Angeles National Forest to see the wildflowers. The Angeles National Forest (ANF) of the U.S. Forest Service is located in the San Gabriel Mountains and Sierra Pelona Mountains, primarily within Los Angeles County in southern California. The ANF manages a majority of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. The San Gabriel Forest Reserve was established on December 20, 1892, the San Bernardino Forest Reserve on February 25, 1893, and the Santa Barbara Forest Reserve on December 22, 1903. They became National Forests on March 4, 1907, and they were combined on July 1, 1908, with all of the San Bernardino forest and portions of San Gabriel forest and Santa Barbara forest composing the new Angeles National Forest. On September 30, 1925, portions of the Angeles National Forest and the Cleveland National Forest were detached to re-establish the San Bernardino National Forest. Angeles National Forest is registered as California Historical Landmark, for being the first National Forest in the state.
Since we had just eaten at the Grande Cascade restaurant, we decided to walk around and visit its namesake, the actual Grande Cascade created by Baron Haussmann in 1852. Napoleon III was personally involved in planning the new parks. “We must have a stream here, as in Hyde Park,” he observed while driving through the Bois, “to give life to this arid promenade”. The first plan for the Bois de Boulogne was drawn up by the architect Jacques Hittorff, and the landscape architect Louis-Sulpice Varé. Their plan called for long straight alleys in patterns crisscrossing the park, and, as the Emperor had asked, lakes and a long stream similar to the Serpentine in Hyde Park. Unfortunately, Varé failed to take into account the difference in elevation between the beginning of the stream and the end. If his plan had been followed, the upper part of the stream would have been empty, and the lower portion flooded. When Haussmann saw the partially finished stream, he saw the problem immediately, dismissed Varé and Hittorff and designed the solution himself. An upper lake and a lower lake, divided by an elevated road, which serves as a dam; and a cascade which allows the water to flow between the lakes. This is the design still seen today.